Like its cousin stress, anxiety can be helpful in certain circumstances.
It sharpens your senses and keeps you on alert for important dates and occasions. But if it doesn’t dissipate once that worrisome event has passed, it can become a problem.
When it hangs over your daily life and isn’t connected to any currently threatening circumstances, anxiety can seriously damage your mental health, cognitive function and physical well-being. It keeps you constantly worried or tense and often leads to physical symptoms.
Living with a sense of dread isn’t really living. You need to be aware of the signs you might have an anxiety disorder and talk about them with your primary care physician.
- It’s about more than one part of your life. If your anxiety is primarily rising from one space it’s more likely to be a transient issue. If you’re consumed by anxiety regarding your health, finances, family relationships and job, it’s time to try to step back and ask why.
- It seems to trigger physical symptoms. When your anxiety keeps you up most of the night it can lead to a cascade of other health troubles you don’t want to also be worrying about. It can also cause fatigue, play havoc with your digestive system, produce muscle aches, trembling, elevated heart rate and shortness of breath.
- It’s interfering with your daily life. Fatigue, depression, difficulty concentrating, recurring headaches, nausea and other manifestations of an anxious mind can make doing your job, maintaining your home, getting adequate exercise and other basics increasingly difficult to keep up with.
- You don’t have any pre-existing diagnoses, medications that could be responsible. Some conditions create similar symptoms including heart disease and hypothyroidism, as well as prescription or nonprescription drugs. Your doctor may evaluate you for these before referring you to a mental health professional.
- You feel it more days than not for more than six months. This is the medical field’s standard definition for generalized anxiety disorder, but if you’ve been living with excessive anxiety for “only” three months and it’s negatively affecting your life, you don’t need to wait for another three to ask for help.